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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, December 10, 2002
    Think Bigger
     
    On this cold, cold evening I'm mindful of those few nights I've spent in winters past, chatting with rough sleepers, giving out blankets, hot drinks and ciggies to those who wanted them. My life's presently too comfortable to entertain such costly behaviour. So I'm glad to have been provoked by The Big Issue's Think Bigger campaign, the one which turns the problem of homelessness on its head, saying (at length, but worth repeating in full):
      Are you mad? See those huddled figures? They're people. We may not be suffering hallucinations ourselves. But we do seem to be able to wipe significant objects entirely from our visual field. It seems many of us don't consider homeless people to be significant objects. Maybe we've developed some form of homeless-phobia. Recognise any of these symptoms? Irritation, anxiousness, inability to empathise, even paranoia - where you imagine homeless people have screwed their lives up, lost their loved ones, and given up all their worldly possessions in order to take you for a ride. Doesn't that qualify as delusional? If it's not quite classifiable behaviour, it certainly highlights an imbalance in reasoning. Here's another. There are less than a thousand official rough sleepers in Great Britain's major cities. Nothing compared to the fifty-six million more fortunate individuals who ignore them every day. Even when you add those in households regarded as temporary accommodation (including bed & breakfast hostels, overnight shelters and missions), it's still a great deal less than one percent of our total population. The truth is there are far more people suffering from homelessness in this country than there are homeless people. We just need to admit it to ourselves. That's where The Big Issue can help. We provide support for mental illness, addiction, sexual abuse, training, education & re-accommodation. A source of hope both for the homeless and those with a problem with the homeless. It's said that in confronting any problem the first step is the hardest. So take heart. The fact that you're still reading is step one.
    Maybe it's the nature of Cherie Blair's speech tonight that's brought this on, but it does seem like it's time to get deep down and personal where politics is concerned, such as returning to serious engagement with street people or perhaps (as their latest mailing is asking me to do today) joining in CAAT's 'Site Unseen' campaign in 2003, "a series of protests at 40 sites belonging to BAE Systems or its subsidiaries, alongside local public meetings to raise awareness about the arms trade and how we can work together at national and at local levels to end it". Or (also on my desk today), CAP's 'Lent Challenge', which is to "reduce your disposable income to the equivalent of the Minimum Wage for the six weeks of Lent". Over 70 people took part last year and CAP are looking to increase that to over 200 this year.

    The new Archbishop of Canterbury seems to want to get deep down and personal with these issues too: "What would you say if, in your parish, there was a large firm producing armaments, and they were threatened with closure unless they got a big foreign contract? How do you find your way through that one?" he asks rhetorically in the current Church Times: "You may well be someone with strong commitment about the arms trade [as I am]; but I'm also someone with strong commitments about unemployment." Thinking bigger ... can make life more interesting.